Khator: With outcomes-based funding, don’t block access from ‘at-risk’ students
AUSTIN – UH’s priority is providing access to higher education for all students who want it, regardless of age, socio-economic status or educational background, said UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator at The 2014 Texas Tribune Festival, held over the weekend at the University of Texas at Austin.
Khator spoke on the second higher education panel, “The Completion Crisis,” on Saturday, Sept. 20, which focused on the issue of retention rates among Texas’ higher education institutions.
The panel revolved around questions that arise from an inherent struggle in higher education between having a high graduation rate and allowing access to all students, regardless of how likely they are to graduate in four or six years.
Khator said that ensuring access to post-secondary education takes priority over raising a completion percentage, but that both are important and can be achieved.
“I think we as a public institution have a mission to provide education. If you have fire in your belly, come to us, and as long as you are ready, we will help you graduate,” Khator said. “We are serving a phenomenal student body… and no roadblock should stop them.”
The panelists discussed outcomes-based funding as a way of forcing universities to raise graduation rates. Outcomes-based funding is a system of allocating funds based on the performance of an institution, rather than enrollment or other factors.
Conversations about outcomes-based funding began in Texas, and as of March, twenty-five states use the model at some level of higher education, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The common complaint with this method is that it tempts universities to turn away “at-risk” students.
Chancellor of the Texas State University System Brian McCall said Texas could have “a near 100 percent graduation rate in six years” if universities did not accept students who are sick or who take care of sick loved ones, transfer students or students who were not in the top ten percent of their class. However, this would mean blocking access to education for a large number of people.
“From my perspective, let’s go for it, but let’s keep the impact at a manageable level so that we don’t penalize the institutions that are most committed to access,” President of the University of Texas at El Paso Diana Natalicio said of outcomes-based funding.
Khator agreed with Natalicio, saying that it is important to keep in mind what a University is primarily trying to accomplish before withholding funds.
“An institution like UH-Downtown, whose mission is very different… they don’t have the four-year graduation rate because they take more at-risk students,” Khator said. “Think about taking money from them and giving it to the main campus because they are already ahead in the race. I just don’t think it’s fair.”
Khator said that while factors such as income and educational backgrounds contribute to whether students stay in school or drop out, there is also a responsibility on the part of universities to do more.
“Even after you take all the factors out, I think there is still institutional inefficiency, (an) institutional cultural paradigm,” Khator said. “My message to my faculty and staff has been, ‘We’re doing great, but how is it possible that individually we can do great and collectively we can be mediocre?’ ”
UH is taking action to ensure that students who may be “at-risk” receive the resources they need to stay enrolled and complete their degree.
This year, UH launched its UHin4 program, which allows freshmen to sign a contract guaranteeing a four-year fixed tuition if they graduate in four years. Khator said 60 percent of incoming freshmen signed up for program, which is also available to transfer students. UHin4 allows students who sign on to obtain a degree plan that will help them plan their classes for the next four years. This eliminates the problem students sometimes have where a class they need for graduation becomes unavailable.
“The UHin4 students have a guaranteed seat in class if that’s what they need to graduate,” Khator said. “They have their graduation plan for the next four years, which means the departments have to show what classes they are offering over the next four years so you can plan your degree.”
She said advising at UH is also undergoing change, as advisors will now be held accountable for not just how many students they see but how many consistently return.
Since arriving in Jan. 2008, Khator has worked to change the culture of UH into one where students are passionate about being on campus, which she said breeds academic success.
“That’s the whole purpose of wearing red, of having this great stadium, so that we can have more pride and confidence,” Khator said. “I don’t know of any schools or fields of life where you can be successful without having pride and passion in that particular thing that you do.”